Edward Gardner keeps a tight but not inflexible rein on Schoenberg’s Opus 5 (1903), his expansive and sumptuous post-Tristan take on Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a play about the doomed lovers that also inspired music from Debussy (an opera), Fauré and Sibelius. Gardner – allied to superb playing from the Bergen Philharmonic and equally superb sound as engineered by Ralph Couzens, wonderfully natural, capturing every detail and dynamic so carefully wrought by the performers – relishes the theatrical potential of the music and its gorgeousness, also its delicacy and mercurialness; vivid pictures are painted.
So too in the more musically advanced Erwartung (Opus 17, 1909), a one-Act monodrama set at night in a forest: “A woman [unnamed] is in an apprehensive state as she searches for her lover. In the darkness, she comes across what she first thinks is a body, but then realises is a tree-trunk. She is frightened and becomes more anxious as she cannot find the man she is looking for. She then finds a dead body, and sees that it is her lover…”. If Schoenberg has now left tonality behind (Pelleas is rooted in D-minor), Erwartung (with Marie Pappenheim’s German libretto, if no English translation, included in Chandos’s booklet) is the height of Expressionism, an engrossing half-hour of the titular Expectation, during which Gardner’s concern for clarity and spectacle, the Bergen players’ wholly assured responses, and Sara Jakubiak’s vibrant vocal acting – she is fully immersed as The Woman yet manages to save something for a lung-bursting crescendo towards the end, itself made suitably chilling – bring much that is compelling and rewarding.
This is a notable release indeed – Chandos CHSA 5198 [SACD].